Jesus Is Born – How Will You Respond? Matthew 2:1-12

December 17, 2007

Sermon Manuscript – December 16, 2007

When I was in college, I went on a trip to Washington, DC, with the school band. I remember walking the streets of that nation’s capital, seeing the sights, visiting the museums, taking lots of pictures. I was with a couple of buddies, walking away from the U.S. Capitol, and we began seeing police all over the place. There were patrol cars parked at every intersection along the street. And as we walked, suddenly they all turned their lights on, and the policemen got out and closed all the cross streets. We turned to look back, and we saw a motorcade leaving Capitol Hill – two or three long, shiny, black limousines, with little flags fluttering from their bumpers and antennas, driving really fast away from the Hill. They drove right by us. We looked and tried to see who was in the cars, but the glass was all tinted and we couldn’t make them out – which, I suppose, is the point! To this day, in those moments when I’ve been really bored or nostalgic, I’ve wondered idly who that was. Was it some high official – a cabinet secretary, even the President or the Vice President? Who knows. The point is, though, that for that moment, everyone along that street stopped and watched this impressive convoy go past. Wondering, most of them, who they were. Wondering what was going on. Why the hurry. What’s the big deal?

This passage from Matthew 2 is really the same scene, in many ways. I want you all to look at this story with me, before we dismiss. Here we are, in another national capital, with another group of locals watching another fancy procession, wondering: what’s going on? Who are these guys? Here’s a group of foreign dignitaries, who have traveled for months from the east – probably around Babylon in Iraq, but maybe even further – and they’ve come to visit someone.

The one “born king of the Jews.” That causes an uproar. The whole city is unsettled, disturbed. Along with the current King, a guy named Herod. See, this idea, of a child born King of the Jews, really bothers Herod. He’s the King of the Jews. But – he wasn’t born that way. Herod’s family had basically bought the throne from the Romans – he hadn’t been born to it. He couldn’t have been – Herod wasn’t even Jewish! And so the idea of a rightful king terrifies him.

Long ago, God promised a Jewish king named David that one of his descendants would sit on the throne of Israel forever. God always keeps his promises – Jesus was that king, God Himself become a man, coming to earth to live a real earthly life. As a man, as the son of David, Jesus was the rightful king of the Jews. As God, as the creator of all things, Jesus was – and is – the rightful king of everything. And so this little boy born two thousand years ago in a Roman backwater isn’t just a nice story. He’s the most important thing in the world, and every single one of us owes him our allegiance. That’s our first point. Jesus is a king. Jesus is our king.

The wise men may not have known all this. But they knew he was a king, and that he deserved honor. So they brought him their best – the treasures of their land. Gold. Frankincense. And myrrh. Myrrh was used to embalm dead bodies and prepare people for burial.

Burial spices – what kind of a present is that? I think the Magi brought it because it was precious, because it was something their land was famous for. But even though they probably didn’t mean anything deeper than that, the gift itself has a really important message for us – for all humanity. There are no coincidences in the Bible – God wrote all of history, and in His story this gift of burial spices means something. That meaning is our second point: Jesus came to die.

Jesus came to suffer. God became a man in order to die. Jesus Christ’s mission was to be killed on the cross – that’s what we remember at Easter, but already, here in the Christmas story, in the gifts of the wise men, we see the foreshadowing of what was to come. Jesus’ birth is good news because his death was good news. The Father sent His Son, Jesus, into the world to die in the place of sinners, to take the punishment that every one of us deserves. See, we’ve all sinned. Every one of us, through the things we’ve done wrong, have rebelled against our rightful King. We are all guilty. And yet our King came to earth to die, a perfect man for imperfect men, giving his perfect life so we could be counted as perfect by God, taking our sin on himself and receiving the punishment it deserves. And just as He was raised from the dead, and just as He now lives forever, we too will be raised and given eternal life – if we believe.

If we believe – and, you know, that’s the point. See, this particular story is actually about how people responded to Jesus. Matthew’s actually calling for a response. When the good news came, when it was announced, how did people respond? What did they do when they heard?

This is really a story about two groups of people. We see here the wise men. Foreigners – not Jews. They are not part of the chosen people. They are outside the camp, unclean. And even worse than that – they are Magi. They’re not kings, though a lot of songs say that. They’re actually astrologers – like the guys who write the astrology column in the newspaper, with the Cancers and the Leos and the Geminis and all that, these wise men made a living reading the stars, looking for signs, trying to tell the future.

There is the irony. The ones who come from thousands of miles away to worship the king of the Jews – they’re not Jews! In fact, their lifestyle is an abomination to the Jews! The Law of Moses said to stone sorcerers to death, and yet that’s exactly what these guys were!

Foreigners. Outsiders. Sinners! And yet here they are to worship the King. And look at them. They arrive, and they see the child, and they are overjoyed. Literally, it says, “they exceedingly rejoiced great joy.” When was the last time you felt like that? Indescribable happiness? I can only think of a couple times in my life – the moment I saw my wife-to-be walking up the aisle in that white dress, or the first moment I heard my son cry. Have you ever had a moment like that? That’s how these men felt. Their eyes had seen the King, the Lord of Glory. They fall all over themselves to worship him, opening their treasure boxes, giving him gifts, weeping with happiness. It didn’t matter who they were. It didn’t matter how bad they had been, how sinful they were – they came to Christ, and they were not turned away. They were held up as an example to follow here! That’s how we should respond!

On the other hand, there’s another group of people in this story. The people of the land – the ones who had been awaiting this promised King, who had been looking for a Messiah – where were they? We see the religious leaders – the priests, the scribes of the people – telling Herod and the Magi where Jesus was. They explained where to find him. They told them who He was – that He was from God, that he came as a ruler, that he came to shepherd His people – to care for them, to love them, to feed them, to protect them.

And yet – the Magi – the foreigners – travel alone. None of those priests come to see what the Scriptures promised. There are no Jewish leaders here to see the King of the Jews. Jesus came to be King of Israel – and Israel yawned. The people of Jerusalem could hardly have missed the news – their King was born! – and yet, when it came down to who would actually go take a look, who goes? Not them. Only seven miles away – but they were too busy. They were too distracted. They were looking for something a little more flashy than a kid born in a trough. They were looking for a conquering hero, not a baby in stinky diapers.

That’s the contrast here. That’s the choice here. Here we are, at Christmas. The good news is in every carol, every tree, every string of coloured lights. Jesus is born. We saw the play this morning – Jesus is born. How will you respond? Like the foreigners and sinners we are, who despite their faults threw themselves before the Lord with joy? Or will you carry on this busy season like the people of Jerusalem, thinking you’re all right, maybe getting around to it later? Will you believe in Christ, and trust Him to save you from your sins and the punishment that they deserve? Or will you look for something more flashy, more impressive, more popular instead, putting him off till later?

– Jeff Jones

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